(Beyond Pesticides, June 1, 2009) Many believe that nature’s best weed control is goats and that is why the Maryland Department of Transportation, town of Heampstead, New York, Google Corporate office campus in Mountain View, California, Mesa, Arizona Utilities Department and City of Cheyenne, Wyoming are putting goats to work this spring. Whether its 5 or 700 goats managing weeds, brush and grasses along highways, on a nature preserve, on a corporate campus or on a water reclamation plant property, goats are doing the work in an environmentally-friendly way. Goats eat unwanted plants, add fertilizer to the area and aerate the soil with their hooves, all at the same time. They show up every day to work, never complain, and they are tireless in performing their job.
Maryland Department of Transportation
The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) had a major dilemma — how to mow the turf amid the meadows and bogs that protect the threatened Bog Turtle around a major highway bypass in the state. The best solution — use goats as lawn mowers. In late May, SHA enlisted a herd of 40 goats from a local farmer to begin a conservation grazing project on approximately eight acres of meadows and bogs in Carroll County.
“Avoiding and minimizing environmental impacts is a challenging part of highway maintenance and construction,” said Neil J. Pedersen, SHA Administrator. “Using goats to maintain turf in an environmentally sensitive area is not only an innovative idea, it clearly demonstrates our vision of a greener highway system.”
Using traditional mowing methods could have led to a major disruption of the Bog Turtle habitat and could injure or kill the turtles. Goats are light weighted animals and pose no significant hazard to the Bog Turtle or their habitat along the Bypass.
SHA is using goat grazing as a two-year, $10,000 pilot, which will be evaluated after one year to measure the success of the project and to determine if the project should be expanded to other environmentally sensitive regions across the state. The cost of the goats includes delivery to and from the project, supplemental feed, and routine veterinary care. The goats will graze the fields from mid-May until the beginning of September, which is the end of the mowing season.
The goat grazing project is in sync with Governor Martin O’Malley’s Smart, Green and Growing Initiative, introduced in October 2008. The Initiative was created to strengthen the state’s leadership role in fostering smarter, more sustainable growth, and inspire action among all Marylanders to achieve a more sustainable future, to create more livable communities, improve transportation options, reduce the state’s carbon footprint, support resource based industry, invest in green technologies, preserve valuable resource lands and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Hempstead, New York Nature Preserve
Five Nigerian dwarf goats are being used as an environmentally responsible method of eradicating brush, weeds and other vegetation overgrowth at the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve in Hempstead, New York.
“We were looking for a way to control vegetation overgrowth that was in keeping with our nature preserve’s mission,” said Town Supervisor Kate Murray. “Lawn mowers and line trimmers emit greenhouse gases, and herbicides can pollute nearby waterways. Adding these goats to the town’s workforce is an effective way to control weeds and it’s environmentally responsible.”
The goats, which cost just over $1,000, complement a flock of insect eating fowl known as Guinea Hens. The birds, which are indigenous to North Africa, have been a resounding success in the control of ticks at the preserve. In fact, there has not been a single tick incident reported at the facility in the four years since the fowl were employed as a nature-friendly insecticide. Visitors who tour the park will be given a presentation on all of the park’s features, including the new livestock.
Google Corporate Campus, Mountain View, California
Google hired 200 goats instead of hiring a mowing crew to manage the weeds and brush growing on their corporate campus in Mountain View, California in order to reduce fire hazard, according to Dan Hoffman, Google’s Director Real Estate and Workplace Services. The company’s hiring of the goats costs about the same mowing.
Northwest Water Reclamation Plant, Mesa, Arizona
The City of Mesa, Arizona Utilities Department has employed 80 goats to manage 30 acres of brush and weeds at one of their water reclamation plants as an alternative to mechanical mowing. The goats are finishing up a six-month contract to clear the slopes of three water retention ponds on the site.
“The traditional use of machines and manpower is difficult due to the design of the retention ponds and the amount of vegetation at the site,” said Utilities Department Water Division Director Bill Haney. “Using goats allows us to use a more sustainable and environmentally responsible form of weed control.”
The Utilities Department website states, “While using goats is a non-polluting form of vegetation control, they also produce better results than the use of machinery. Goats possess a unique characteristic that separates them from almost all other types of livestock; they will eat just about anything resembling a plant. They can clear vegetation from hard-to-reach places, and they’ll eat the seeds that pesticides and mowing leave behind, preventing vegetation from coming back next year. Environmentally, goats reduce the use of motorized vehicles, which in turn reduces air pollution and usage of fossil fuels, involve no toxic chemicals or pesticides and they produce biodegradable waste material that naturally breaks down into the soil. Goats also make better economic sense than utilizing mechanical means which are more costly.”
According to an Arizona Republic article, with a savings of $10,000 for this project alone, “the city will consider other places the goats can be used.”
City of Cheyenne, Wyoming
The city of Cheyenne, Wyoming has hired Ecological Services, to provide weed control, flood control and stream bank restoration along two creeks that go through the city with about 700 goats. Ecological Services, owned by Lani Malmberg, a Beyond Pesticides’ board member, is a a goat based weed control business that provides up to 1,500 cashmere goats to naturally remove weeds and return any land to a healthy, natural ecosystem. She has worked extensively in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah for federal, state, county, and city governments, homeowners associations, corporations and private landowners for noxious weed control, fire fuel load abatement, re-seeding, watershed management, and land restoration.
Goats are being put to work worldwide for ecological land management. In what it says is a drive to help the rural community stave off the recession, Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand (MMNZ) is offering a free goat with every new Triton sold before August. (Triton is the brand name of truck, and is not sold in the U.S.)
“We firmly believe that New Zealand’s recovery is in the hands of the rural sector and they’re the people who are buying our [Triton],” said MMNZ general manager of sales and marketing Peter Wilkins. “Goats improve farm productivity by providing an environmentally friendly defense against noxious weeds and they’re a lot cheaper than toxic sprays”.
For more information on natural, non-chemical land management strategies, read “Successfully Controlling Noxious Weeds with Goats: The natural choice that manages weeds and builds soil health” by Lani Malmberg; watch the video from the “Organic Land Management: Lawns, gardens and open spaces” workshop at the 27th National Pesticide Forum in Carrboro, NC and see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawn and Landscape pages.